Mekdes Mersha, Model & Researcher


"I work in research full-time and always have, but modeling has been a great outlet. It breaks up the seriousness of my day-to-day. Right now I’m at a startup called Trialspark—I really love it. I’ve been there for six months, and it's a career I really want to grow into. But to be able to model on the side is a huge blessing and I feel really lucky for it. Sometimes I wish I’d pursued it more, but I got signed a long time ago when I was 22. They told me I needed to lose weight, and it was not healthy. To be able to do it at my size, without any pressure to be smaller or whatever—that’s where I want to be.

My parents are from Ethiopia, and I grew up in Seattle, Washington. [My fiancé] essentially brought me to New York. He’s a photographer and a creative, and he’s always been in the public eye because of his work, so that’s how I got into modeling. As a photographer, he’s always inspired by his surroundings, and as we were spending time together, naturally he’d take photos of me. He’d be booked for gigs and I’d model for them. And then we went to Afropunk together, where a photo was taken of me that was in Essence and circulated around. That’s actually how Glossier contacted me. Through this one image.

I did my first 5K when I was 21 or so. I liked it, but it wasn’t until I moved to New York that I got really into running. Because I was lonely. And had no friends. [Laughs] I worked right by Central Park, so it just made perfect sense for me to go right after work. I’ve met a lot of really great people through the running community in New York. So, I ran my first 10k—that was my new year’s resolution for 2016. And when I posted about it on Instagram, this girl I follow tagged another woman in my post and was like, ‘Oh, you guys ran the same race. You should know each other.’ And then we befriended one another and that friend encouraged me to run more and more. It’s been really cool. It’s a nice way to set goals, too. Last year my goal was to run a half marathon, and this year is to run a full marathon. I haven’t started training yet, but I am going to be running the New York City Marathon.

When I’m running, the socks make a huge difference. There is this one pair that they don’t sell in the Nike store anymore that are like anti-friction socks. They’re $16 a pair, which is insane, but they’re worth it. I chafe on the bottom of my feet really easily, so those socks are life. I just found them on Amazon last week, so I ordered a crapton of them. My sneakers are just the Nike Structures, because I’m flat-footed. The sock and shoe combo works for me, but otherwise I’m really frugal. Though I love the way Lululemon looks, I just can’t get myself to spend $100 on leggings.

The more I run, the hungrier I get, so I haven’t actually lost any weight. But I’m not doing it for the weight loss. I just eat anything and everything and it does the job. I try to stay hydrated and I listen to podcasts when I run. I love Snap Judgement, it’s my favorite. Also This American Life. Even with the podcasts though, I cannot run on a treadmill. It’s just the dullest experience. So I always run outside.

Nowadays I’m trying to exercise before work. The night before I’ll pack everything, so I have to do very little work in the mornings. I wake up, wash my face, brush my teeth. Put on my gym clothes and then run straight to a class or to the gym. And then I’ll pack everything I need with me and get ready there and go straight to work.

When I wake up, I put on NPR, shower and do my thing. I have early starts to my day. I’ll cleanse my face every morning with Glossier Milky Jelly, and then I use my moisturizer. It’s Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb—that’s my favorite. And I got into chemical exfoliators this year. I really like them. When I first started though, my skin was getting really tight. I didn’t understand that you weren’t supposed to do it twice a day. I was talking to my girlfriend like, ‘Man my skin is so dry. I don’t know what’s wrong with it!’ And she was like, let me put you on to some game. Come with me to Sephora. And then she showed me Aqua Bomb and it changed my life. It feels like you’re putting water on your face, honestly. It’s not greasy at all. It does leave a little bit of a moisturized look, but after a while it seeps in. My skin is a lot happier.

Sometimes I struggle with texture on my face. I’m a picker. I have that problem. I’m very obsessed with picking, so when I exfoliate it evens that out. I use salicylic acid—Stridex Pads. But then I bought actual salicylic acid, the liquid, from Paula’s Choice. And I just got Glossier Solution, so I’ve been using that. I’ll alternate between chemical and physical exfoliators, so I use a physical one from Murad that I really like. Every couple days, I mask—I love the Glossier masks, and I make my own bentonite clay masks as well. I’ll just alternate.

For makeup, I just do a little concealer and then Glossier Boy Brow, mascara, and that’s usually it. For the concealer, I use a mixture of Rimmel concealer and Glossier Stretch. My shade is Deep, but in the wintertime it’s a little too dark for me, so I mix the two. The Rimmel one is a lot higher coverage than Glossier, so I also feel like mixing gives me exactly what I need. I make sure my hands are clean before I go in, and I just dab with my fingers. If I want to feel fancier than usual, I’ll put on a little bit of Glossier Haloscope in Moonstone. I love it. I think it’s great. It just looks like a very natural highlight. And I like Quartz. Sometimes I’ll use Cloud Paint in Dusk because it’s very natural, which I like.

Now I’ve just graduated to only using Boy Brow. I used to do the crazy, lined eyebrows, which I think is great. It’s a look, and I love it, but I’m trying to cut back on my routine just to save time in the mornings. I use Boy Brow in Black, and then I use Covergirl’s Clump Crusher. I love it because it separates all my lashes, it never looks clumpy. It never looks too overdone either. Then a little bit of Maybelline gel eyeliner up top. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll put Glossier Skin Tint on and Wowder to set it. In lipstick, I like dark plums. I recently bought this Kat Von D matte lipstick that looks like my skin tone, which I like. It’s the Liquid Everlasting Lipstick in Lolita.

I’m pretty low maintenance, but I just recently bought those exfoliating gloves, and they’ve changed my life. I always had eczema as a kid, and I had scars from it. But now that I’m exfoliating, my skin’s a lot happier. I usually use it with Body Hero, or whatever’s on sale at Rite-Aid, to be honest. And then I use coconut oil all over, because in the winter months I like something thicker. For fragrance, I really like Le Labo Ylang 49. That’s my favorite. I like to wear the oil version—It stays longer and it’s less forward-facing to the world, you know? I like it because I can smell it, and other people can only smell it when they’re really close to me. Jo Malone is my second favorite—Oud and Bergamot.

I found a hair stylist who I love—she’s @briellehair on Instagram. She’s all about understanding your hair, making it specific for you and your gals. She’s been trimming it every three to four months for me. But my hair definitely takes the most time out of my getting ready process. I wash it every four to seven days. I do one round of shampoo, one round of conditioner, and then a deep conditioner treatment, and then I always comb it out. I detangle in the shower with conditioner in it, wash it out. And then as soon as I get out, while it’s still wet, I’ll put it in leave-in conditioner—usually I use Shea Moisture because it really does add a lot of moisture to my hair. And then a curling cream. I’ve been using Cantu, which smells really nice, and it’s really thick. I feel like it accentuates my curls. I have to work it through every strand and sometimes I finger twist the front. It takes a day to dry, basically. I don’t use a diffuser or anything like that. I like to let it air dry. No heat. At night I’ll put it up in a pineapple and wear a bonnet. Or if I have time, I will do my two-strand twists. I like to twist my hair, braid it if I have time. [Day-to-day] I usually just wear it out. I have a spray bottle that I bought from Rite-Aid and I just spray it with water. At work, I always wear my afro and I never feel like it’s a problem. It’s just when it gets unruly that I need to secure it. I’m always interacting closely with people, so I try not to have it be too crazy [Laughs]."

—as told to ITG

Mekdes Mersha photographed by Tom Newton on January 29, 2018.